These past few months haven’t been so good for the miles/points world.
We’ve seen cut after cut, devaluation after devaluation:
- Avios raising cost of the 4,500 mile award
- Aeroplan increasing award chart levels
- Air Canada implementing revenue minimums for elite status
- American devaluing award chart and elite benefits
- American Express implementing once-per-lifetime restrictions on bonuses
- Capital One discontinuing Delta and IHG credit cards
With ever-increasing amounts of miles issued, our miles continue to hold less value due to inflation, and award space becomes harder to get with more and more people trying to get an award.
Thankfully, I still have plentiful miles/points balances, and I don’t see a problem in the next 18 months being able to go anywhere when, where, and how I want. Maybe after that, everything will dry up. Or it might not. But let’s forget about that for now – the long-term vision of the miles/points hobby is a discussion for another day. Let’s move on to what I want to discuss today.
What Can I Do Now?
- Grab low-hanging fruit
At the end of the day, there will always be free miles and points in the form of credit card signups and promotions. You can very easily get over 100,000 points worth over $1000 if you just signup for a few credit cards in Canada such as the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite, American Express Business Gold Card, the MBNA Alaska Airlines Mastercard, and more.
This isn’t limited to credit cards. You can get lots of other freebies, including bank account bonuses, hotel promotions that pay for themselves, and plenty of travel app credits for free – HotelTonight, AirBnB, Uber, Lyft, etc. One of the latest promotions I’m testing is the IHG Best Rate Guarantee. It gives you your first night free, so if you have time to go through many travel booking sites, you have a good chance of actually getting a lot of hotels for free.
Finally, making smart choices with your everyday habits are also very important in getting as much free travel as possible. Choices such as putting all everyday spending on credit cards, paying off bills promptly, selecting travel providers that let you earn points, and going through online shopping portals to earn additional miles. Simple decisions like that make it easier for you to get to your next trip also.
- Act quickly on time-limited deals
I admit to spending lots of money on travel. However, I am getting 95% off the retail price of most vacations, and for me, that’s worthwhile. A few trips I’ve taken are purely because of fantastic deals.
Some of the best deals this year such have been extremely time-limited. The $330 business class fares to Europe from the US lasted less than 24 hours. So did the Aeroplan award massive sale last year.
The best way to stay on top of these is by monitoring activity on blogs, social media, and forums. I have a RSS feed that tracks all new threads on Flyertalk, so if someone posts a sweet sale fare or hotel deal, I’ll be sure to get on it. I also have lots of travel buddies who are kind enough to message me if something great is happening.
- Staying Connected
What I mean by staying connected is simply having a good network of travel friends so everyone can mutually benefit from the power of a group. As cliquey as this sounds, there is a ridiculous amount of tricks and tips that spread via word-of-mouth and private message. Even though you read every thread on Flyertalk and post on BoardingArea, you can bet your entire miles and points balances that all the bloggers know lots of stuff they aren’t posting online. This statement is also from personal experience. It’s not that I don’t like y’all, but some things are just not sustainable if they go public.
If you don’t already have a great network, the best way is to go to meet people in person. One of the best ways is to go to miles/points conferences. Sure, you’ll already know a lot of the stuff that’s been talked about, but where the value arises is from the two or three bits of new tricks and deals you learn about, and the win-win relationship you generate from meeting really intelligent people at these events. (FYI – I’ll be speaking at the Canadian Points University Conference in Vancouver January 2016).
The power of being in a group is that you can reduce costs and risks for items that have unlimited use but individual prices. While it might not be following the terms and conditions of the companies, I’ve shared plenty within my networks – award search tools, wi-fi logins, elite accounts, you name it. It’s mutually beneficial to everyone (unless you only take and don’t give – in which case – goodbye ;)).
Some Final Thoughts
I see the miles/points hobby as a variation of cat and mouse. As miles/points become more mainstream, the higher the likelihood banks, credit card issuers, and frequent flyer programs, will see this segment as unprofitable for them. To an extent, I think it’s true – I am sure that I am not as profitable a customer for Aeroplan, American Express, or Starwood as most who earn status, miles, or benefits the hard way. This calculation is notwithstanding the publicity and brand benefits that I and other travellers bring when I mention my experiences getting to travel for the brand.
This rarely gets mentioned in the mainstream arena of miles and points, but for the most part, getting a few cards and being able to fly business/first class to Asia or Europe is simply not sustainable. If miles/points for the most part is a zero-sum game, there will end up being a winner and a loser on either side. It just depends when that’ll happen.